South Korea currently has the highest number of investors – 71, who have put their money in export processing zones (EPZs) in Bangladesh.
Besides, 56 investors from China, 28 from Hong Kong, 31 from Japan, 25 from Taiwan, and 20 investors from India have invested in the EPZs, which are contributing hugely to the country's export earnings, foreign investment and employment.
A favourable investment atmosphere is drawing more foreign companies to EPZs. Kido Industrial Company, a renowned apparel manufacturer based in South Korea, is one of them.
The company has announced to invest $36.17 million in the Adamjee EPZ to establish a new company and renovate an existing firm that it recently acquired.
The company will make high-value products including motorcycle safety jackets, leather jackets, and fibre jackets.
There are many skilled workers in this sector in Bangladesh, said Joseph Ahn, director of Kido Dhaka Co Ltd.
Bangladeshi national Md Zahirul Islam, general manager (operations) of the company, told The Business Standard that the establishments of EPZs have created opportunities for local people to work with foreign companies.
"I have about 12 years of working experience in EPZs. I can apply my experience in Kido Dhaka Company Limited," he said.
Apart from local entrepreneurs, investors from 38 countries – including China, Japan, South Korea, the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Sri Lanka, Canada, Malaysia, Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore, Pakistan, Denmark, and France – currently have an investment in the EPZs here.
Economists attribute this success of EPZs to the availability of cheap labour and timely decisions of the government.
Besides, a good working environment has made the EPZs an attractive place to invest in – for both domestic and foreign investors.
Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), told TBS that EPZs are playing an important role in Bangladesh compared to other countries.
"It is shown as a model. Dhaka and Chittagong EPZs have received many large investments. As foreign investors come up with new ideas and technologies, our entrepreneurs can learn from them. They can reform them [ideas and technologies] later.
"Local people are working in foreign industrial factories where they are coming to know about different technologies. As a result, technology is being transferred."
Mentioning that land in EPZs is in high demand among investors because of a good working environment, Moazzem said new EPZs should be developed quickly.
Bepza General Manager (public relations) Nazma Binte Alamgir told TBS that no plot is vacant in Chittagong EPZ, Dhaka EPZ, Cumilla EPZ, Karnaphuli EPZ, and Adamjee EPZ.
There are one or two plots vacant in the other EPZs, she mentioned, adding but those too were allotted.
The Bepza executive further said as both local and foreign investors are showing interest in investing in the EPZs, the government will establish three new EPZs Patuakhali, Jashore and Gaibandha.
Besides, the Bepza Economic Zone is being set up on a 1,150-acre land in Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Industrial City, she added. Already, 78 companies have applied for more than 250 plots in the EPZ and initially 119 plots have been allotted.
There will be 539 plots in Bepza EZ, she said, adding once the economic zone is fully operational, it will create about 5 lakh jobs.
Mentioning that about 4,60,000 workers are employed in the eight EPZs, Nazma said Bepza has set a unique example in the case of female employment as 67% of the total employees are women.
Healthcare centres, transport and day-care facilities are among the services available for EPZ workers, she listed.
Quality products of many global brands are being made in the EPZs, which are in high demand in the international market.
Of the 10 Lead Platinum Certified Factories in the world, seven are in Bangladesh and five of them are in EPZs, she added.
EPZs account 20% of export
According to official data, about 20% of Bangladesh's total export income now comes from the eight EPZs where 457 industrial units are currently in production.
Data provided by the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (Bepza) show that in the 2020-21 fiscal year, the eight EPZs exported goods worth $6.64 billion, which was 17.14% of the country's total export income that year.
In the first four months (July-October) of the current fiscal, export income from the EPZs stood at $2.58 billion.
The total investment made in the EPZs currently stands at $5.71 billion, creating 4,54,708 jobs.
In FY21, the EPZs got $337.76 million in new investment and job opportunities were created for 47,131 people.
Diversified products are being made in these EPZ – built for 100% export-oriented investment – for world-renowned brands.
Encouraged by a huge response from investors, the government has planned to establish three new EPZs.
Besides, work is underway to establish the Bepza Economic Zone at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Industrial City in Mirsharai, Chattogram.